Read Caged Warrior Online

Authors: Lindsey Piper

Tags: #Dragon Kings#1

Caged Warrior (41 page)

Then they’d be together—a real family he could hold and watch grow and love.

He banked his thoughts and kept them tucked in the dark, where he had once been held
captive. He delivered the two he carried to the makeshift meeting area the Giva had
established two miles away from the arena,
where Jack waited with the shivering, shocked patients. The snowmobiles ran circuits,
too, and the Sath stole little chunks of Leto’s speed to do what they could. By last
count, they had under three minutes and fifteen people to save. Leto cursed the Dragon
for tipping the odds so heavily against Nynn.

His neophyte. His lover. The woman he’d hoped would be his for the rest of his life
as a free man.

Two more test subjects reached the checkpoint. Although the number they’d pulled to
safety was growing, huddled together in the snow, blinking even in the twilight, the
remaining number was a weight on his chest.

“Silence, Hark—no more. Stay with Jack and Pell. Let me do this at full speed.”

“I’m going with you,” said the man named Tallis. Even Leto had heard of the Heretic,
although his knowledge went no further than a sense of foreboding and distrust. “I’ll
do what I can to dismantle the detonator. Two gone in exchange for these people. Not
so bad.”

Leto protected himself from any more of the man’s grim fatalism by racing back to
the outpost. The arena shed long, dark shadows over what remained of the lights inside
the lab.

He returned to the corridor of death. Eight remained. Outside, he heard the thrum
of two snowmobiles. Then came the glimmer of Tallis’s energy and the sharp crackle
of the Giva—distant, but near enough to honor his promise to help Nynn.

Two more prisoners freed. Leto was fueled by fear and desperation and Dragon-damned
grit. Time could fuck off. That human expression fit best. He wouldn’t
give up on Nynn, and while he still breathed, he would not bow to an enemy.

Even if that enemy was time itself.

♦   ♦   ♦

When the charges set off, Nynn had a blink of warning. She was overwhelmed with heat
and pain. The charges kept coming. A chain reaction.

Her body tensed and her mind shut down. Pure instinct, as old as the Dragon. Millennia
of power tempered by millennia of sacrifice. She saw it all as clearly as the scorching
storm that boiled down the corridor. The force smacked her chest with the power of
buses at full speed. She inhaled and sucked it into herself, into pores and cells
and the follicles of her hair. She breathed lava and the concussion of endless waves
of fire. Her lungs blistered. Perhaps the ends of her fingers and toes had turned
to ash; she couldn’t feel them.

That fire was hers. She owned it. She was a daughter of the Dragon. The wall of searing
heat gathered in front of her as a ball of living flame. The roof of the labs blew
open, into the sky she couldn’t see. All was red. All was orange and yellow and evil.
Her control of the energy was so close to nothing. She could only keep it, focus it,
shoot it upward.

Fighting. Still fighting.

My brave girl.

Leto’s words were a chant even when her skin felt like it was peeling off. Soon her
muscles and her bones would dissolve. She knew the moment when she’d lost the fight.
Her body went cold. The fire took her and she felt no more pain. Shivers, uncontrollable
shivers, swallowed her without mercy as she called out Leto’s name.

Her life was at an end.

No, the pain was . . . gone.

Dragon damn you. Open your eyes.”

So slow. So terrified of it not being true. Because she thought she heard Leto.

Her eyelids fluttered. She was that out of body, as if her lids worked of their own
accord. Finally they parted to reveal Leto’s scarred, uncompromising face.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he growled. “I promised I’d come back for you. You heard
me. Don’t make me a liar, Nynn. Talk to me.
Do it.

Her throat felt papery and charred. Yet she could still swallow. She could still talk.
“So bossy.”

Leto enveloped her in a fierce hug. His heart galloped beneath her ear at the speed
she knew he could travel. She’d worked so hard, but even she knew she was oddly still.
His rasping exhale was a brush of warmth against her cheek. Good warmth. The kind
that meant safety, not destruction.

“Where is your armor?” she asked.

“Shed it. Faster that way.”

“How many lost?”

“I don’t know.”

“Leto, no! I could’ve held on a little longer.”

woman, I grabbed you up through a wall of pure fire. You were being consumed by it,
like the Dragon swallowed into the Chasm. Nynn, I couldn’t hear your thoughts or your
heartbeat. Nothing left of you but a tiny pulse of life.” He bowed his forehead to
hers. Only then did she realize they lay together in the snow. That was the cold she
felt. “I wasn’t leaving you to die.” His blunt, wide palms framed her
cheeks—his warmth battling the bristling cold. “Do you hear me?”

She gulped cold air into her singed lungs and burrowed her body into his warmth. “I
hear you.”

“I can’t imagine my life without you. I had my arms around you and was running free.
Saving you was saving myself. You’ve given me a taste of a life I never knew I could
have. For me, for you, for Jack—I wasn’t going to give that up. I’ve sacrificed too
much to lose you now.”

“But the last prisoners?”

Leto exhaled heavily. “I’ve always lived with the choices I’ve made.”

He smoothed sweat-sticky hair back from her temples, which exposed her heated flesh
to the elements. She liked the shock of cold as she returned to herself.

“But that doesn’t mean the death of more innocents today,” Leto continued. “That Pendray
man did what he could with the detonator. Hark said only half of the charges went
off. He and Silence found the remaining patients several hundred meters back from
the outpost. The Pendray was nowhere to be seen. He’s gone. Even the rebel Indranan
woman can’t feel a trace of him.”

She shook her head, which still roared with the sounds of whirling flames, like an
enraged predator. “Where’s Jack?”

“With your cousin. The Giva helped you, as he said he would. He took part of the energy,

“He’s a damn fool.”

“He’s related to you.”

She hurt all over, but Leto’s rough caresses began to heal her from the inside out.
“You were my tormentor once. Maybe all of that harsh treatment led us here. I
wouldn’t have survived without you, Leto. I wouldn’t have known my strength.”

Nynn couldn’t hold it in any longer. The energy she’d funneled through her body had
left her depleted. Completely depleted. Sensation returned—a mixed blessing as the
memories of flames remained. The very real threat of an arctic night remained. She
shook until her teeth clicked together. Yet a sense of joy began to warm her from
the inside out. She’d defeated her own fears and, with the help of members of all
Five Clans, she’d helped save almost three dozen Dragon Kings from Dr. Aster.

Tears froze on her cheeks, but Leto kissed them away.

“Here,” came a familiar voice. “I believe this young man belongs to you.”

Looking up from the protection of Leto’s solid chest, Nynn found Malnefoley kneeling
in the snow. Jack jumped from his arms and folded into Nynn’s. Leto closed his embrace
around them both. Her grateful, awed sobs came in earnest then. Jack. Leto. She was
holding them both. That Aster and the Indranan witch had escaped was a fight for another
day. She was too busy thanking the Dragon for each breath she shared with her family.

“I’ve communicated with the outside world, if you can believe it,” Mal said. “Who
needs the Indranan when we have satellite phones?” He looked exhausted. Quietly sure
of his place, but exhausted. “Rescue helicopters will be here in an hour. Then we’ll
search what’s left of the underground complex for survivors.”

“And the Pet?”

“She’s under my protection now. Or my custody. Whichever winds up being more appropriate.”
He smiled tightly and turned to leave them in privacy.

“Mal? Who was that man? He said he was my father’s younger brother.”

The Honorable Giva stopped, his back still turned. “Tallis of Pendray. The Heretic.
And yes, your uncle. One day I’ll tell you the sins he confessed to me.” He looked
over his shoulder with a glare as powerful as his lightning strikes. “But not tonight.
Enjoy your family, cousin.”

He returned to the people who needed him—who would need him more than ever now that
the power of one of the cartels had been upended.

Although confused, Nynn took Mal’s advice. She was safe. Really, truly safe. Leto
kissed the top of her head, and she could’ve sworn he whispered prayers of thanks
in their old, old language.

Four snowmobiles pulled up alongside them. Two faceless Dragon Kings merely nodded
before gunning their machines into the dark. Hark, however, grinned with his usual
misplaced levity.

“We’re throwing in with the rebels for now,” he said. “We have an idol to return to
our clan, and a few collared brethren to free along the way. That sounds far too noble
for me, but I’ll survive. I have it on tenuous authority we’ll see each other again—sometime
between now and our return from the Sath leadership. Won’t
be a pleasant reunion? At least it’ll be warm in Egypt.”

He tipped his chin toward his partner in a gesture to get going.

Silence smiled down at Nynn and the two men in her life—one barely formed, one scarred
and just as new to the world. “Take care, friends.”

Then they were as much a part of the night as the stillness and stars. Leto helped
Nynn stand, so that he could lead her back toward the huddled bundle of shivering
bodies. Leto knelt next to Pell and touched her cheeks. “Jack, come sit with my sister,
will you? Her name is Pell. And you’re both cold.”

“It’s all right,” Nynn said to Jack with a growing measure of calm. “I’m right here.
And I’m never going anywhere without you again.”

Jack threw his arms around her neck and kissed her there—there, where she wore no
collar and could feel his small, sure gesture. “Love you, Mama.”

She swallowed back tears as her son scampered from her arms and laid down beside Pell’s
motionless body. He huddled under a makeshift blanket that may have been from the
young woman’s gurney. Nynn considered her survival and her reunion with Jack—let alone
her love for Leto—to be miracles. There had been no future for Pell before, and she
would’ve died in the labs. Maybe now . . .

Leto settled behind Nynn, with his legs crisscrossed around hers. He’d held her that
way on several occasions. She adored the safety and possessive weight of his limbs
wrapped around hers. She leaned back against his chest, reveling in the man who’d
become hers through a hell she would spend years trying to understand. At least she
would have Leto to hold her throughout it all.

Over her shoulder, looking up at him, she whispered,
“I love you, Leto. I’m glad you came for me. I could’ve given all I had, but that
wasn’t my right. It would mean sacrificing you and Jack, too—your happiness.”

He leaned close and kissed her. Tenderly at first, but then with the growing heat
of having survived. Together. His arms were her refuge. His heart was her home. His
soul was the treasure she’d never knew she sought. She could never put right what
had been lost, but she could look ahead to years filled with boundless potential.

Leto’s tongue stroked over hers. Passion and power. Sweetness and sweat. They were
everything and more.

“I love you,” he said with that rough, deep rumble. “Be mine. Be mine . . .”

As the distant sound of helicopter rotors filled her with another surge of hope, Nynn
smiled against his mouth. “Always, my warrior. No matter what the future holds.”

Continue reading for an exclusive excerpt from


The Dragon Kings

Book Two



Coming August 2013 from Pocket Books

allis shed his heavy leather jacket and levered over Kavya, the legendary goddess
known as the Sun, where she sprawled on the ground, sheltered by the canvas tent.
He wore sturdy military-style cargo pants, while she wore only a silken sari. She
would be able to feel his desire taking physical form.

“Should I kiss you again?” He touched her only from the waist down, where he used
the weight of his lower body as more threat than seduction. Arms straight, he braced
his hands on either side of her head. “I’d learn secrets about the Sun you’re too
arrogant to admit possessing.”

“More of the so-called justice you seek? I’ve done nothing to you!”

“You know my weaknesses better than I do. Every fantasy—even those I can’t arrange
into thought.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ve used that knowledge against me for years,” he said, voice deepening with anger.
“If I resisted, you invaded dream after dream like some Dragon-damned monster. You’d
raid another corner of my mind to find more secrets.” He was still aroused. Kissing
her had
been calculated, but he’d been swept into the vortex where fantasy swirled with reality.
“Is it any surprise that I desire you in person?”

“You have the only mind I’ve never been able to read. How could I have done anything
to your dreams?”

A clamor of voices came from beyond the tent’s dingy white canvas. For a moment Tallis
thought she’d managed to telepathically call for help, but she wore no expression
of triumph. Then came more voices, more chaos.

He edged away and grabbed the deadly Norse seaxes he’d kept out of her reach.

His sense of hearing gave away her attack from behind as Kavya swung a cooking pot.
The determination and, frankly, the vehemence in her glittering brown eyes was pure
surprise. Ropes around her ankles meant she had one chance before losing her balance,
but she made the most of it. The bulk of the pot hit his shoulder. One seax with its
etched blade and honed edge skidded along the bare rock floor.

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